OXFORD, Miss. – Three 19-year-old white male freshmen from Georgia were declining through their attorneys late Thursday (Feb. 20th) to be questioned by university police regarding the vandalism Sunday morning of the University of Mississippi's James Meredith statue, according to University Chief of Police Calvin Sellers.
Sellers said the University Police Department had gathered enough evidence by late Wednesday to bring charges through the student judicial process against two of the students. Both state and federal authorities were working in close coordination to determine whether criminal charges were applicable, he said.
Working through an advisor to the students, university police had arranged a meeting for Thursday morning, Sellers said, but the students did not appear as promised. As university police were attempting to locate the two students late Thursday, they became aware of an Oxford attorney who was representing one of the students, which then led to information that three students had retained legal counsel.
Two of the students were those being sought by university police, but all three names had been prominent in the investigation, according to Sellers. He said the attorneys declined to make their clients available for questioning without an arrest warrant.
Sellers and University of Mississippi Chief of Staff and General Counsel Lee Tyner said they believe sufficient evidence exists to bring criminal charges against the suspects. They pledged to provide whatever support is needed for state and federal authorities to issue warrants and pursue legal measures to the full extent of the law.
Tyner said the student judicial process would call on the students to respond but can proceed without their cooperation, Tyner said. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not permit the university to release the names of the students unless criminal charges are filed.
The Meredith statue commemorates the 1962 integration of the university. During the Sunday incident, it was draped with a noose and an old Georgia state flag. The desecrators were heard shouting racial slurs. Chancellor Dan Jones condemned the action as contrary to the beliefs and values of the university community.
"These individuals chose our university's most visible symbol of unity and educational accessibility to express their disagreement with our values," said Jones in a written statement. "Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue – Courage, Knowledge, Opportunity, and Perseverance."
Sellers said the $25,000 reward offered by the university's alumni association has been instrumental in bringing quick results in the investigation, generating numerous leads. Those with additional knowledge that may be helpful to the investigation and prosecution are encouraged to contact UPD at 662-915-7234.